Ten Minutes to Waste
A blue shark, a purple cat, and a stranger
Of all the memories he relishes for the lessons they afford him, the last time he saw the ocean is the most present. He's here on a critical assignment. What he does is confusing to most people who know him, and he takes pride in perpetuating that confusion.
He has travelled to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where he will meet a man carrying information about a business venture relating to that elusive job his friends and family can't understand. The city is cold in June. The sea, which he is eager to visit, is angry for most of the South American summer; especially on the coast of Montevideo. But the people there are warm and welcoming. The continent's diversity allows him to blend into the crowds, and his fluency in Spanish makes that blending much easier. He is good with accents; he can sound like a local if he needs to; he has been Colombian before, and remembering his time in Ecuador always puts a soft smile on his lips.
The breeze that hits his face when he leaves the small aeroplane that brought him here from the southeastern coast of Brazil presents the smell of concrete and car exhaust. The scent is pleasing to him. There is a sense of home in the stench of postcolonialism he has never escaped. He is comfortable amongst the multitude of people in the terminal, and the young woman at the arrivals desk in Carrasco International Airport senses his confidence. He hides the injury to his left leg well. An injury resulting from a poorly calculated cliff jump – he hit the rocks at the bottom – a few centimetres to the left could have seen him paralyzed or worse.
"¡Bienvenido a Uruguay!" She says in that delightful accent that makes every sentence sound like a happy song. Her voice makes him happy.
"How was Bahia?" she continues. He's here as a delegate of a multinational Canadian company looking to buy the information his contact offers, and pretending to be Uruguayan won't be necessary at this point.
"Delightful," he replies softly, "it rained often, but the people made it enjoyable."
His passport has a peculiar name in it – it's the first time he's used it. "Have a good stay in Montevideo," She exclaims as she stamps it. She daringly straightens her nametag when she returns his documents to him as if introducing herself differently. Her smile tells him she likes him; she fancies his confidence. Perhaps, being mindful of his injured leg requires him to move in a way that projects control and determination, and she finds that irresistible. His step is calm and precise.
"Thank you, Maribel," he replies, pronouncing the name on her tag carefully. "I'm sure I will. I love Montevideo; she's always got something special to offer." Maribel is now leaning forward with her elbows on her desk, validating the message in her smile. "But," he says before a deliberate pause, "How do I make sure that I have the stay you want me to have? How do I make it a perfect one?"
Unlike the name on his passport, this flirting game isn't new to him, he's played it before, and the gender or orientation of the other person is never an obstacle to his seduction. It's a calibrating strategy he learned decades ago from his mentor. "As you lie to me," says the older woman when they first started working together, "think of the lie you're telling me – think of the truth – do not try to suppress it." This old teacher, the person who brought him into the business, knew that humans are bad at controlling their thoughts and that lies always show in the face and voice of the person telling them, something a well-trained investigator could detect. "Don't try to stop thinking about what you want to hide; you might as well try to stop thinking about a purple cat now that I've brought it up," Says the woman to a group of young recruits.
People can't control their thoughts and feelings, and often they will betray their lies if they know they are lying.
"I'm off for the next few days," responds Maribel while typing on her keyboard. It's not that he doesn't like her; on the contrary, he finds her more attractive than most people he's seen in years. She is tanned, and her eyes are like golden almonds – a characteristic of the Guaraní population of that region. Her body is voluptuously athletic even under the standard-issue uniform of the Uruguayan customs authorities.
"And I just emailed you my number," she says, rolling up her sleeves touting her ingenuity and revealing an impressive tattoo of a blue shark on her left forearm.
"Sharks are not blue," he says sarcastically, "but that one is beautiful," he continues as he reads her message on his phone. He has a fondness for sharks; he has never seen one in his many years working and living by the sea, but he relates to them. He sees sharks as misunderstood and mistreated for their nature.
"You'll have to explain how you got my contact information when I see you next," he exclaims with contrived intrigue as he walks away and towards the rest of his assignment in the quaint old city.
In the taxi towards the Lighthouse, he calls his contact at the embassy. Carla was one of the recruits trying not to think about purple cats and is now a trusted colleague. She is almost perfect. She is physically beautiful and psychologically powerful. Carla Cage, as the team knows her, served two years in Kandahar, where she violated the Code of Service Discipline and the National Defence Act by moving to "apprehend" fifteen locals running a human trafficking ring. She was not court-martialed; she was not convicted of any violation of ethics; she was reassigned. The locals, however, have not been found.
"Hey, old boy," she says, answering the phone.
"Hello, old girl," he replies. "I made it here safely."
"I know," she says confidently, "and I see you've already made a friend."
"I can't wait to see you. I'll make contact with Chambers in two hours," he says before hanging up. He doesn't have to wonder how Carla knows about his blooming affair with Maribel, the people they work with need to know everything at all times, and they will go to extremes to accomplish that.
The first time they work together, he plays the part of the little Blind Mouse for her. Blind Mouse is a term used in the industry for an operative with very limited or no knowledge of the primary objective of an assignment. The Mouse is kept blind to prevent their personal biases from affecting natural reactions to important events. Because, as the old woman once taught them: people can't control their thoughts and feelings, and often they will betray their lies if they know they are lying. He doesn't know much about Chambers for similar reasons, except that he is always punctual and he will be wearing something easily identifiable.
He loves Carla deeply. She saved him once before, when she stopped him from marrying a woman he only knew for two hours. They shared two sex-filled weeks in Marrakech five years before today, where he, as he recalls, had the most powerful orgasm of his life – something he tirelessly attempts to best every chance he gets. She, on the other hand, claims to have had better. Despite her denial of mutual ecstasy, Carla loves him more than she admits. An itinerant rumour in the field says that she warned him about an internal investigation giving him time to prepare his defence. She was ordered to extract information from him and set him up for a fall. "I looked into his eyes," She confesses to a close friend, "I saw his eyes and remembered Marrakech. I couldn't do it."
His taxi arrives at the Punta Brava Lighthouse in Punta Carretas ten minutes before his contact. El Faro de Punta Brava, as the locals call it, once served to guide merchant and military ships into Punta Carretas, now decommissioned, it is the perfect meeting place for a clandestine rendezvous with a stranger. Chambers brings with him financial information that will help secure a loan of sorts to the Uruguayan government and help his organization gain control of key officials. The Lighthouse is guarded by municipal officers, whose directive is to control the flow of human traffic into and around the structure. However, friends abound in this part of the world – after a few phone calls and some dollars exchanging hands – the place is open to him and his guest.
Having ten minutes to waste, he walks towards the seashore. The sea is angry as he expects. He looks deep into the water hoping to get a glimpse of a shark, but his wishful thinking stops with the knowledge that sharks don't swim in turbulent, cold waters. At least the sharks he wants to see won't come around here. Like his, twenty-two degrees Celsius is their perfect temperature. Sharks, he also knows, will not move two close to the rocks; they are smarter than he is that way.
With eight minutes to waste, he moves towards the rocks the sharks know to avoid. He hops confidently, thinking that if he jumped into the ocean, he would see a beautiful Great White in its natural glory, "but it's too cold," he remembers. Five minutes pass. He has infiltrated secure facilities in less. One more rock, one more hop. Three minutes was enough to convince the warden of a high-security prison that his friend could leave for the weekend.
"One last rock, one last jump," he thinks out loud. It is true, like his old mentor told him, that people can't control their feelings and thoughts. He is no exception. His desire to be closer to the possibility of seeing a shark, as unlikely as it is now, makes him forget his injury and, on that last jump, lands hard on his left leg, which inevitably gives up under the force of his landing. He falls and hits his head on the same rock, that last rock. With two minutes to go, he is under water. He is barely conscious, and the water is violently cold. A wave sends him crashing into the rocks and the blow to his hack forces the air out his lungs; he inhales water. With one minute to waste, he thinks of Maribel: "What will she think when I don't call her?" "How did she know my contact info?" He wonders, forgetting the fact that he volunteered that information when arranging this trip. In that unconscious hallucination, he sees her giving an elegant explanation for the blue colour of her shark. But will he get to tell her that some sharks can be blue? He sees her rolling up her sleeves and reaching into the water for him. He reaches for her hand.
Then he feels it: a strong tug on his outstretched arm that pulls him from the frigid waves. The sensation of being carried towards safety overtakes him and sends him into an overwhelming, frightening sense of calm. He wants to wake up. He wants to move. And when he is convinced that he has lost it, that death is imminent, he hears Maribel's lovely voice reminding him that she is off the entire weekend and she expects a call – that she can make his stay in Montevideo a perfect one. He feels her kiss, sweet and comforting. However, it isn't the voluptuous, almond-eyed woman from the airport kissing him. Chambers is punctual as promised, and on his t-shirt, a blue shark.
"Some sharks are blue," he says, gasping for air, "and that… that one is beautiful.".